Mainstream, Vol LII, No 15, April 5, 2014
Sunday 6 April 2014, by
In terms of geographical spread and demographic reach, India has one national party, namely, the Indian National Congress, and one quasi-national party, namely, the Bharatiya Janata Party—quasi because among a hundred and fifty or more parliamentary seats in India’s eastern and southern States it has next to no organisational or political hold. Which is not to say that it is not the loudest in propagating its primary claim to “Indianness” on Hindu-cultural grounds, a dearly-held indigenism which constitutes its “nationalism”. It may be closest to the capitalist economies of the Western world, and farthest from the mass of India’s impoverished millions, but such facts impact little its questionable assumption of being more Indian than any other.
Truth to tell, its Westernism stretches well beyond its proud proximity to things American; the political theory of its mentor organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as resoundingly inscribed by its erstwhile chief, Golwalkar, derives in good measure from European Fascism and Hiter’s “race pride” (Gowalker’s phrase) which was to receive adulatory praise from him. (See his We, Our Nationhood Defined, and A Bunch of Thoughts) It must be a telling irony that where a pioneering mentor of the Hindu Right, Moonje, was inspired by Mussolini whom he went especially to meet, the Congress’ Italian-born Sonia Gandhi reminds us of the Italian thought of a Mazzini and a Garibaldi. And, yet, never a day passes when the self-proclaimed “indigenists” of the Hindu Right do not dub her an Italian outsider. The fact being that if the Hindu Right has been on the Fascist side of international thought, Congress and Sonia remain significantly rooted still in the historical memory of international Socialism. Such being the divide that at bottom characterises the contesting nationalisms of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
If the Congress goes all the way back to 1885, the RSS significantly marks its birth precisely at the point when Euoropean Fascism was ascendant, namely, 1924-25.
Of the sixtyseven or so years since India’s Independence from colonial rule, the Indian National Congress has been in government in Delhi for some fiftyfour or so years—a fairly stunning record, which, come to think of it, may not be wished away as mere fluke, however India’s new “aspirational” classes with negligible historical interests or memories might put that phenomenon down to a prolonged and success-ful befooling of the hoi polloi through chicanery and double-cross. If they were to be believed, all Indian national elections since the first one in 1952 have been rigged by the Congress! The simpler truth might be that the Indian National Congress as a broad and pluralist platform of often contradictory ideological preferences—indeed a single-party coalition—has remained in historical dominance by holding fast to a political, economic and cultural mix that has never pointedly excluded any Indian interest, although such a mix may indeed have left all interests disaffected by turns.
The present Indian political juncture, how-ever, defines a new and concerted putsch to dethrone this classic Congressite pluralism, both in culture and in the political economy of the country. At one level, the market-friendly policies pursued by the Manmohan Singh Government over the last decade yielded extraordinary growth in the Gross Domestic Product even as it placed the overwhelming bulk of the new wealth in private corporate hands; and, at another, also furnished a plethora of social leg-islations empowering the impoverished masses with a string of legally enforceable rights—to information, to work, to education, to food security—with further promises in the new Congress manifesto for the coming General Elections to the right to free health care and housing for the houseless, among other things.
And there is the rub that explains much of the quite brutal onslaught launched by the first of the Congress’ own yield—the newly wealthy classes, trumpeted by India’s new and no-hold-barred Rightwing media channels, equally a produce of the neo-liberalism of the Manmohan Singh decade—upon the Congress itself. Propagated as a crusade against Congress “corruption”, the putsch is at bottom calculated to do dirt on policy initiatives directing subsidies to ameliorate the living condions of the majority of Indians who still remain largely outside the reach and concerns of the exchange economy. With some seventyfive per cent of India’s GDP now in private hands, the social Darwinism of the newly endowed classes has little use for a state that has done what it could for them but is unwilling to continue to do so with single-minded devotion to private wealth maximisation to the Ayn Randish relegation of those who are “clearly responsible for their own misery”, even as they deride the corporate-captive state for their ills.
Thus the new nationalism is sought to be defined as involving rightfully and unabashedly the interests only of those who are poised to reach for the imperialist skies, never mind that the other seventy per cent or so Indians are also granted full rights of citizenship by the very Constitution that empowers the predatory minority. Indeed, among top-class Indian homes you may hear it said without shame or embarrassment that the successful Indians owe their success to their “merit” and the immise-rated millions their wretchedness to their karma. Cultural theory hand-in-glove with class interests, if there ever was one. Thus, lakhs of crores of money write-offs to the corporates are justified as the just dues of those who strain to place India among the superpowers, and hence nomenclatured as “incentives”, while measly morsels of money thrown towards the labouring and dispossessed millions, who in fact produce most of the wealth, are dubbed wasteful subsidies guaranteed to sink the nation and, would you believe it, morally reprehensible as well.
What surprise then that the current putsch asks for one great and strong leader who may now break free of the disabling moralisms of socialist theory, bind the nation in a homo-genising cultural oneness, refuse to suffer contrary argument or contrary facts, keep government away from corporate money-making but enjoin upon governmental state-apparatus to be on hand to quell with no-nonsense brutality the first signs of resis-tance, be it at the level of ideas or on the street.
One leader, one culture, one idea, all bolstered by directing educational and technological institutions and infrastructure towards one unquestionable purpose—unfettered openness in profit-maximisation and unchallengeable closure in debate, dissent, democracy. And don’t we know that only one current leader fulfils all the requirements of the new conjuncture.
Just the confluence that Capitalism at its furthest has always pined for since its inception, even though it has equally always sought to ride its interests on the disingenuous call to de-mocracy the world around. Some reason why that champion of international democracy, America, remains happiest dealing with a China or a Saudi Arabia, even as it seeks to appropriate democratic stirrings in large parts of the world to install its newer and newer Narendra Modi -like satraps. Look at how the Indian stock market has been climbing to the firmament as the likelihood of Modi’s ascendance to India’s prime ministership is blared by complicit media channels and pollsters, and how American love of human rights begins to collapse as well as it prepares to issue visa rights to its potential ally whose answerabilities begin to be set aside in the interests of that common deity—Capital.
And yet, the diversity of India’s people, interests, needs, and political formations, and the continuing call on the state to be on the side of the have-nots remain a formidable challenge to the fascisising homogeniser. Just as its welfarist antecedents constitute a powerful ideological memory and tool for defeating the Rightwing putsch to appropriate it entirely for the greed and lust of the money-makers. Nor may the strong leader overestimate the quiescence of the non-semitic majority, because rarely since India’s Independence has the least attempt at militarism or police raj succeeded to bring all of India into line. Indeed, were the current Rightwing putsch to succeed, something that may not be taken for settled, far from disciplining the nation into a quiescent and non-thinking obedience, India may be set to witness quite the opposite of that which the strong leader might envisage—social unrest and street-level uphea-vals of unmanageable proportions with Indian pitted against Indian along a plethora of historical axes. And the ruptures may come to be the more violent and decisive the more that political, social, cultural and economic Centrisms are sought to be imposed with clout.
Even at the moment of writing, the numerical strength of pluralist formations far exceeds that of the oppressive unifiers. It will remain to be seen in a month-and-a-half from now how well or not the pluralists bring themselves together into a democracy-saving conjunction, and how rationally or not they seek to read and direct the productive and distributive mechanisms of India’s economy away from the predators whose networkings may be influential but who may still find a formidable enemy in the conscientious people of the republic.
The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.